Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Marketing Space to Multiple Audiences

A friend sent me an article from Workforce Management on Gen Y. Then I got a PowerPoint and paper by Mary Lynn Dittmar and a story by Leonard David about that generation and their relationship to space. Blah, blah, blah. Can't we get off of this topic for a little while?

I wrote my master's thesis on using targeted marketing, and my target audiences included women, minorities, and environmentalists (mostly because there were plenty of references to be found in the English department). The point being here that Generation Y is not the only audience NASA needs to be concerned about. That's why I've written about Gen X and Baby Boomers. "Generations" are easier and less politically charged than the three groups I chose for my thesis. However, the arguments I posed then (and sharpened in a presentation at the 2007 ISDC) are still worth considering.

The easiest way to explain my approach for each of these target audiences is to break them down by their respective top motivators and issues now. My argument is that space advocates should not start with space first, but with Earth-based issues first, and then work our way up toward space by showing how space-related technologies can offer solutions or alternatives to those problems. If we start with the great, von Braunian Vision of a Grand Future in Space, we will lose at least half our audience because most people just don't give a flup. For each of my audiences, I tried to address both those things that inhibited their resistance to (or disinterest in) space as well as those things that are of keen interest to them. It's a mixed bag, but the emphasis is on meeting our audiences more than halfway by understanding what is motivating them to respond in certain ways.

Marketing Space to Women

Relevance of space - The biggest issue one confronts in researching women's reactions and relations to space is that they fail to see the relevance of space activities to their own lives. To which, I responded, "What about jobs, healthcare, or educational opportunities!?" Notice that I didn't mention rockets once.
Space / science / engineering “boring” - This is a tougher nut to crack for a couple of reasons. First there is the nature argument, which states that every individual has particular interests and enthusiasms, and that no amount of preaching or outreaching is going to like them any better. The problem with this approach is if you observe that more men than women are in the sciences, it could be a function of lack of interest (in which case you're stereotyping) or ability (in which case you're a sexist who's stereotyping). The nurture argument states that women/girls don't care about science or engineering because they aren't encouraged enough when they are younger. If anything, I've been told that girls are getting the bulk of encouragement in schools these days while imaginative or technically minded boys are not. Most of the reports I've read on discrimination one way or the other have been andecdotal, so I will just table the nature vs. nurture issue for now and suggest approaches to overcome the "engineering is boring" perception. We should emphasize the fun, challenge, problem-solving opportunities to be had in the science and engineering fields and to overcome the lack of encouragement issue by making a more concerted effort to reach girls and women.

From here on, I'll deal with issues that do matter to women today. My "scientific" method for determining these issues was to go to a variety of web sites catering to women (Oxygen, etc.) and scan their subject headers.
Health Care - This is an easy win for space advocates, as space-based hardware and activities have resulted and continues to provide m
edical spinoffs and innovations that benefit everyone.
Children’s Education - Mothers concerned about their children's education should be easily persuaded of the value of space-related studies, as the importance of math / science education becomes ever more important for overcoming our nation's science / engineering gap compared to other competing players.
Environment - This, too, is an easy sell, as more than half the U.S. population describes itself as "environmentalist" in some fashion. This could be everything from conscientious recyclers to zodiac boat drivers for Greenpeace, but the sentiment still deserves to be taken seriously. Space assets are one of the most critical assets our nation has for environmental monitoring today. Space life support systems have also been used for Earth-based applications, such as water purification. And for the future, one can invoke the value of non-polluting, "low carbon footprint" energy sources such as space solar power and helium-3 fusion. We're not there yet, but if these space-based power sources can be tapped, the benefit will be incredible and the investment more than worthwhile.
Taxes - Okay, I went a little into science fiction land here, but I still believe this as a Reagan free marketeer: An expanded economy = more people able to afford taxes, and the expansion of human society into space means an expanded pie. That translates into more opportunities, more jobs, more potential taxpayers, and more people capable of paying for our nation's commitments.
Said space economy would also expand faster through tax incentives ("Zero G, Zero Tax"), which means tax cuts for people willing to invest in space ventures.
Social Security - As I noted above, an expanded economy can better afford social programs.
Jobs / Workplace Issues - The space economy provides more opportunities for more people. However, this demonstrated demand and improved opportunity for women in aerospace, science, and engineering fields must be shown.
Relationships - A spacefaring society will have need for healthy relationships and families, simple as that.

Marketing Space to Minorities

My "scientific" method of vetting my approaches to selling space to minority groups was to ask a couple friends who don't match my WASP complexion or sex. Again: talking to the audience helps.

Mistrust of majority / social distance - There are several ways the mostly WASP-male space advocacy community can overcome these issues, including: outreach, going where the people are, demonstrating care for minority issues / activities through actions, not just employing words or money, and possibly learning a second language. This means, in short, stepping out of our comfort zones and making the effort.
Relevance of space / what’s in it for me now? - After overcoming the initial social distance problem, the old question of relevance comes up, as it did with women. Fortunately, the answers are the same: jobs, healthcare, and educational opportunities!
Jobs / Workplace Issues (e.g. Fear or expectation of discrimination in the science/engineering fields)
- Efforts must be undertaken to demonstrate that the space economy provides more opportunities to more people than ever before. As a goofy fallback, we could always talk about the “Star Trek” paradigm (IDIC?) of many different faces on the spacecraft. Trek was pretty revolutionary in the late 1960s. Today, Generation Y expects a diverse crew wherever they work.
Children’s Education - Childhood education is a primary concern of parents in any group, majority or minority. Again, math and science are critical to our nation's future, and the jobs that come with them will keep America strong and its citizens prosperous.

Marketing Space to Environmentalists

It is still my contention that environmentalists represent a very important and overlooked set of allies for space advocates. I saw that someone has written a book on this topic recently, so it's not that far out of an idea. However, since I haven't read it yet, I'll simply offer my thoughts on issues where space and environmental advocates share common ground.

Global Warming / Climate Change - Mind you, the pro-space community is just about as divided on this issue as the general public--about what the actual trends are, and what their sources are--but most folks in the pro-space community will agree that space provides excellent platform for collecting hard data. The “Greenhouse effect,” after all, was discovered as a result of Venus lander data (what more might we learn from sending additional probes or people to Mars?). And, as noted earlier, solar power satellites or helium-3 power sources could reduce carbon emissions.
Space hardware (spinoffs) have also made contributions to fuel efficiency and fuel cell development here on Earth.
Alternative Energy - See above.
Green Living & Design / Recycling - Learning to live within human-made limits on other worlds can help us learn how to reduce resource depletion here on Earth.
Biodiversity - Let's assume for a moment that we know particular species are on the verge of extinction. Using the Moon as a place to store DNA samples of Earth’s life forms makes sense. This is a space-based version of the "doomsday vault" they just built in Norway.
Pollution - Again, space-based alternative energies can reduce the amount of pollution caused by mining for and burning fossil fuels. Also, mining for metals on asteroids reduces strip mining and chemical contamination of water supplies here on Earth.

And that's essentially it, folks. We've got a lot of different target markets out there. Much as the nationalist in me wishes that "shared narratives" were still possible, I'm afraid our culture is becoming increasingly Balkanized and fragmented, and one-size-fits all marketing messages are a thing of the past. Perhaps the exploration, development, and settlement of space could become that unifying narrative! It's up to space advocates to at least try. The more people we can get on this bandwagon, the better.

I will add a few caveats, cautions, and warnings here because I think they warrant mention:

  • Understand your audience’s viewpoint, but don’t pretend to be something your not (i.e. wear a high school jacket, dress like a rapper, use dialect)
  • Don’t insult, pander, or condescend to your audience
  • Don’t contradict yourself or your group’s message (e.g. espousing capitalism one week, communism the next)
  • Don’t engage in class warfare (i.e. divide and rule)
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Don’t lie

And here are some summary points that I'll throw in from my presentation:

  • Space advocacy combines technical communication, politics, and marketing. Space advocates need to learn all three.
  • Space advocates need to use audience analysis to meet the needs of their potential audiences.
  • Different audiences require different messages.
  • Space advocates need to start from existing needs and work up to space rather than attempt to start from an overarching message from above and work down.

The space advocacy community should still operate from some core principles, including freedom, tolerance, capitalism, religious plurality, and scientific progress. If we can't even agree on fundamental ideas (in the American community), then no amount of targeted marketing will help us. But in the meantime, let us begin to reach those new audiences. We have to start somewhere.

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